BIG AL’S FISH TALK, FISHKEEPING 101 - PART 1
FILTRATION & MAINTENANCE
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The first few weeks after setup Is about the most difficult (and therefore discouraging) period for the novice aquarist. Resist the temptation to load up your tank full of fish; rather, start with a few hardy fish (after the tank has been running at home for a day or two - never buy the tank and the fish on the same day!) and take well over a month to build up the population to the tank's capacity (usually one inch of fish per gallon, excluding tail) adding no more than a quarter of the maximum load every couple of weeks. Remember to allow room for growth. It is far better to understock a tank than to push it to its limit
Hardy Starter' fish include, mollies, swords, platies, larger tetras (i.e. black tetras serpaes, head and tail lights, NOT neons or cardinals!), danios and most barbs. Fish which should be added after the tank has been broken in include most bottom feeders and algae eaters, neons, cardinals, and angels. It is common for a new tank to go cloudy during the first week or two; this is caused by bacteria suspended in the water and will usually disappear within a few days to a week.
Mechanical filtration refers to the removal of particles from the water and chemical filtration uses specific media (activated carbon, zeolite, ion-exchange resins) to remove certain chemicals or chemical groups (fish do not only produce ammonia, it is just the most toxic at the top of a long list of organic by-products!). What is important to remember about chemical media is that they can only bond up so much (think of a sponge - it can only soak up so much water) and most are not rechargeable. Generally, chemical media should be replaced on a monthly basis.
Power filters which contain separate inserts (i.e. Aquaclears) should be cleaned in the following manner: Try to not deal with more than one insert within a few days to a week of another. Chemical media such as carbon and ammonia remover should be replaced every four weeks, but not both at the same time. The sponge insert (and this applies to canister filters such as Fluvals, too) rarely need to be replaced, but should be rinsed and squeezed out in a bucket of aquarium water when dirty, not under tap water, as the chlorine in the tap water will kill the majority of the beneficial bacteria living on it (sponges have the most surface are and, therefore, have the largest number of good bacteria living on them compared to the chemical inserts, so this is very important).
Another "big one" folks...neglect is all too common in our hobby and the root of many problems. Regular partial water changes are a MUST. There is no such thing as a perfect system where you never have to change water. There are many chemical compounds (nitrates, phosphates, organic acids) which are left behind and slowly build up, all of which are harmful to your fish. I recommend removing a minimum of 30% of your water every two to three weeks to keep this in check. Replacement water should come in slightly warmer (just compare tank temperature with your fingers) and be treated with a good quality water conditioner to neutralize chlorine and other harmful substances in tap water. If you have a home water purification unit, I do not advise relying on it unless it was very recently changed. Again, manufacturers can overrate the capacity of their products and fish gills are far more sensitive than our tastebuds (not to mention being the equivalent of our lungs!). A few things more: it is not necessary to At water sit when using a water conditioner (letting water sit out will bring it down to room temperature, adding much stress to a heated tropical tank). Unplug heaters and power filters when draining and allow heaters 10 minutes to readjust after filling before plugging in and rechecking their settings. Treat the new water only for the number of gallons you estimate you are changing; not for the entire tank capacity. You can overdose a little, the amount of chlorine added varies with the time of year (the most being spring and summer).
It is a very good idea to contact your local Public Works department (blue pages of your phone book) to find out whether your water is being treated with chloramine (a combination of chlorine and ammonia used when the treatment plant is pumping a long distance). There are special water conditioners for chloramine; if you are not sure, use them anyway
Use a Big Al's Gravel Cleaner to take the water out; this will remove most of the uneaten food and solid waste that accumulates in your substrate which is bad for the tank. Also, skim a little of the surface water off; the top layer is where carbon dioxide leaves the water and oxygen enters. This exchange is hindered by an accumulation of dust, oils and other organic compounds chemically attracted to the surface.
Use a Big Al's Deep Reach Scrub Brush to go over the sides of the tank, prior to drawing; this way, some of the algae wiped off will be removed with the water drained. By the way, the fish remain in the tank the whole time; taking them out will put far more stress on them and it is quite unnecessary.
NEVER confuse water lost to evaporation and then top up with a water change! The only thing that leaves a tank during evaporation is the water molecule itself (like distillation), all other chemicals simply remain in the tank and build up.
Finally, everyone has their own system for doing water changes. I am advocating a system which has worked successfully for me over many years, with a wide variety of fish species. Some people change very small amounts of their water (5 tolO%) often (weekly); but I find that the amounts taken out are insufficient to keep up with the chemical,waste buildup. Remember that if you are only removing 20%, 80% of the wastes are left behind. Others let their tanks go for months and then do a large cleanout, often losing a few fish in the process. The problems with this approach is that aver so much neglect, the water is so chemically different from the treated tap water that the water changes becomes a major stress, instead of the "breath of fresh air' it should be. The best way to handle such a scenario is to "freshen'' the tank water up by making several smaller 15 to 20% changes within a period of a week or so and then continue with larger, more regular changes. Whatever your system, vary it a little from time to time either by occasionally taking an extra 10 to 20% out andor increasing the frequency of the changes once in a while. This will go a long way towards keeping your chemical waste buildup under control.
Remember: the water can look clear and clean, but fish are swimming around in their own toilets (and we cannot see carbon monoxide or many other gases lethal to use either). Think about it.
BIG AL’S FISH TALK FISHKEEPING 101 - PART 2
INTRODUCING NEW STOCK
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You've braved the traffic, consulted the pros, made your choices, and returned home with your prized new additions. Now what? Fish need to be gently eased into a new environment - it greatly increases their chances of survival. The following are three different methods of acclimating fish - you can try them all and decide which you like the best.
1) The bag of fish (still sealed) is floated for about a half an hour. Water inside the bag will now be the same temperature as the tank (it usually changes about 1 degree Fahrenheit per minute.) After floating for 1/2 hour, cut open the bag just below the knot and add an equal amount of aquarium water. Then curl the top edges of the bag down to form a 2 inch lip, which can be partly hung over the edge of the tank to prevent it from tipping. The top of the bag should be kept spread open in a circle to maximize surface area. After 10 to 15 minutes, the fish is then netted out and the bag of water is dumped down the drain. The above method does not work well with large, active fish (which are powerful enough to rip the bag), or bags crowded with fish (which could start to gasp after the waters have been mixed).
2) The bag is floated for 30 minutes and then punctured below the waterline with a pen or pencil to create a 1/4 inch hole. The bag is positioned so that this hole is exposed to the tank water only, which will then gradually mix through it. After an additional 30 to 45 minutes, the fish are released.
3) The fish is immediately placed in a clean glass or plastic container (e.g. Big Al's Heavy Duty Pail) of sufficient volume to hold 3 to 4 times the original amount of water. The container is placed next to or below the tank and Big Al's airline tubing is used to siphon water constantly from the tank to the container. A loose knot is tied in the tubing and adjusted so the water flows in at a fast drip - just short of a trickle. When the water level has exceeded triple the original, the fish is netted out and placed in the tank. This last method is the best by far, but is also the most time consuming. I strongly advocate its use for sensitive freshwater fish (i.e. Discus, Stingrays, wild caught fish) and all marine fish. You will note that in method #2, pet store water can be introduced to the tank. Many people figure this can somehow contaminate the tank by introducing diseases. Whatever disease organisms are present in the water are also on the fish, so I do not see the harm; but if you wish to play it safe, use either of the other methods. Regardless of the method used, I strongly suggest the following actions as well: Be nearby when acclimating; fish can jump out of an open bag or can be suffocated should it collapse. Check on them every few minutes. Give the tank a light feeding a minute or two before releasing the new fish (this will distract the bullies!) and turn the tank lights off immediately upon release (this will calm everyone down), you can leave the room lights on so you can observe the newcomers. Many fish may go into a shocked state in the bag or upon release - do not constantly poke or prod them - they may move around but it will only add to their stress. For cichlid tanks, rearrange the decorations while floating the bag - it will help destroy existing territories, putting the new fish on more equal footing. Also try to add more than just one fish at a time. (FOR STRESS RELIEF ADD BIG AL'S MULTI-PURPOSE WATER CONDITIONER WITH THE HEALING POWER OF ALOE VERA). Finally, allow 2 to 3 days for newcomers to fully adjust to their new environment. They may not behave as expected or eat before then; have patience.